My eyes widened. What kind of an answer was that? A thousand dark thoughts crossed my mind at once. I studied the man carefully. He was rather old, but did not seem weak at all, quite the opposite. Was he in his right mind? His attitude and speech were clear, but his words made no sense.
Before I could ask any more questions, he called out to me from the other end of the room "Come with me. I will tell you what you need to know."
Eager to have some answers, I hurried down the length of the room after him, glancing around me. The walls were covered in a rich purple wallpaper, with paintings from place to place. The people portrayed looked surprisingly real and I felt chills down my spine, thinking that, if I were to turn around, I would catch them staring at me.
My host was waiting for me by a massive wooden door. He gave me a short, piercing look, and opened it. "After you, Miss Olivia."
I hesitated, but gathered my courage and entered. The view was unexpected. I entered a small bar, with little round tables and round chairs and a stage to one side. There were many people inside sitting at the tables, drinking wine and chatting amiably with one another. On the stage, there was a small band, practicing and warming up.
The atmosphere was a big contrast to the room I had just been in. It was more animated, less tense and the conversations created a comforting background noise. However, I was still tense.
My companion showed me to an unoccupied table in a corner. "Please, have a seat."
I sat down with my back to the rest of the people and the stage, trying to gather my thoughts. The old man sat opposite me.
I considered my options. Should I be demanding and angry, or polite and patient? After one look at the other person, I realised that brash actions would have no positive effect.
"Please, tell me about this place." I asked, trying to disguise my anxiety. "Also, if you don't mind my asking, who are you?"
"I am the gatekeeper of this place. I also guide and teach young people, such as yourself." His voice was calm. The band started playing in the background, accompanied by a singer. I digested this bit of information for a while, then asked my next question.
"How can I get back?"
He paused for a while. "You will have to take a journey. At the end of it, when you see the new sunrise, you will be able to return home."
The words 'the new sunrise' echoed in my head. They were the very same ones on the little note that had been the cause of all this. Somehow, everything was getting more and more suspicious.
"How will I know when I find this 'new sunshine'?" I tried. Maybe the old man was really nuts.
"You will know when you see it." Another cryptic answer. I felt that I'd had enough of riddles for one day.
I got up quickly and glared at 'the gatekeeper'. He remained annoyingly calm, staring at me quietly.
"I don't believe you!" I yelled. "You have done nothing but told me a lot of gibberish. I want a clear answer from you." I was trembling with rage and took hold of the edge of the table for reassurance.
Despite my fit, he simply pointed behind me. "Look around yourself." he said simply.
I turned, expecting to see the same people sitting and laughing at the nearby tables and the band playing in the back.
Instead, to my horror, the room was eerily quiet and everything was still. More than that, the people had all turned into mannequins. Sitting in the same positions, with the same expressions, yet lifeless. I stared in awe for a few seconds, then turned back towards the old man.
"What is the meaning of this?" I couldn't disguise the tremour in my voice, but this time, it was from shock.
The gatekeeper gave me a half smile and replied "Look again."
Already expecting some other horror behind me, I glanced back. Surprise! Everything was back to the way it was before. The people talking, drinking wine, no longer cold lifeless mannequins. The band were gathering their instruments, chatting and making jokes.
I sat back down, defeated.
Before I could voice any of the questions swarming in my mind, the old man asked casually. "What did you think of the singer?"
I gave in, thinking it would be best to play his little games. "Quite good, actually. Why?"
"He kept looking at you while he was singing. Quite a handsome young man." I had a feeling of deja vu. "You should go after him."
I looked behind me. The stage was empty. "No, I want to go home. Please show me the way, Mr guide."
He nodded his head, then stood up. "Come then. You have to leave right away, while the sun is still up."
I also got up and followed him, taking one last glance towards the stage.